Parallels and contrasts in two moody dramas

Parallels and contrasts in two moody dramas

‘Bluebird’ and ‘Lake Los Angeles’ paint vivid worlds with emotional depth

BRATTLEBORO — If you like film as an expressionistic art form, two dramas - Bluebird and Lake Los Angeles - should be at the top of your 2014 Brattleboro Film Festival list.

At first glance they are an unlikely pair. Lance Edwards' debut film Bluebird is set in a northern Maine mill town in while Mike Ott's Lake Los Angeles, the third in a trilogy, takes place near an arid crossroad northeast of L.A.

One is about Hispanic immigrants living in the margins of society, while the other is about multi-generational working class Mainers enduring hardscrabble lives. The dusty browns of the arid windblown west stand in stark contrast to white, wintery New England, with its timber creaking under the deepening snow.

Despite their differences, both films establish their style by slowing the tempo to the crunching of footsteps in gravel or snow, the growling of engines idling before chugging away at low throttle, and the repetitious whooshing of cars passing on a local highway. The rhythms are hypnotic, inducing us to meditate on both the frailty and durability of the human spirit.

Both films rely heavily on fine expressive cinematography to give emotional depth to their stories, much as Edward Hopper paintings reveal the inner lives of his subjects. They also both feature haunting soundtracks that evoke a remote mysticism underlying the harshest reality.

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Lake Los Angeles tells the story of immigrants thrown together due to their desperate circumstances. The two main characters revolve around each other like planets in orbit.

Cecelia (Johanna Trujillo) is a Mexican girl of about 12 years who has been sent on a journey to join a father who never appears; Francisco (Roberto Sanchez) is another father who left his family in Cuba long ago and now runs a safe house for undocumented immigrants.

The promise of a better life succumbs to reality when Cecilia runs off into the desert after being taken by a smuggler to meet an unwelcome fate. Bluebird tells the story of a mother, Lesley (Amy Morton), with a daughter (Emily Meade) in high school and a husband (John Slattery) who rips down trees for a paper mill.

Lesley drives a school bus and takes particular care looking after the kids. Her simple life is torn apart by a single moment of distraction that ultimately reveals her deeper discontents with herself, her family, and the small community she lives in.

The low budget filmmaking is reflected in the simplicity of the storytelling, but these films have been written and executed to be enhanced by their limitations. They do not tell a story as much as they put the audience inside it. We spend quiet reflective time with each of the main characters, sharing their experience at a granular level. At times, we seem to be sitting right beside them almost wishing we could hold their hands.

In Lake Los Angeles, we shiver with Cecilia as the night wind blows through the abandoned building she uses for shelter and we sit with her while she contemplates crossing the highway to the truck stop.

The drama is in what she is thinking, though that concept is never articulated in words. She speaks only to an imaginary friend.

In Bluebird, we spend a lot of time with deeply troubled souls at the limits of endurance and flush with remorse. There is more action and dramatic moments in Bluebird than in Lake Los Angeles, but the intentions of the film are clear, mostly when the characters are alone and their tears begin to roll.

Through a wash of misery, each character gains the self-awareness that ultimately gives them the resolution to soldier on.

In a world where most films are full of hyperbolic bombast, these intense brooding dramas deliver a deeper more meaningful experience.

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